Opinions Sun, 27 Apr 2014
By Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK
According to Nana Obiri Boahen, a leading member of the opposition NPP and former Deputy Minister of Interior under the Kufuor government, "anybody who wants to still see the NDC in power after their current term in office expires, needs to go to Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital for brain scan". He added that the current hardship that has beleaguered the economy is as a result of some pardonable mistakes certain voters committed in 2008 and 2012. These were made in an interviews with Okay FM on Thursday April 17, 2014 (see, “Go for brain scan if you want NDC to win 2016 – Lawyer Boahen”, Peacefmonline/Ghanaweb, April 17, 2014). In other words, Nana Obiri Boahen is implying that anyone who will or intends to vote for NDC in 2016 is of unsound mind. In this article, I want to analyse the unfortunate statements by the lawyer and politician Obiri Boahen.
It would be an understatement to say that if there is anyone who would want NDC to be re-elected in 2016, it will be President Mahama, his government, NDC MPs, NDC leadership, members and sympathisers across the length and breadth of Ghana and beyond. Can we therefore conclude from Obiri Boahen’s statement that President Mahama and his cohorts above should have their brains scanned at Ankaful Psychiatric Hospital to find out if they are of unsound mind?
Article 94 (2) (b) (ii) of the 1992 Constitution states, “a person shall not be qualified to be President/a member of Parliament if s/he has been adjudged or otherwise declared to be of unsound mind or is detained as a criminal lunatic under any law in force in Ghana”. If the interpretation of Obiri Boahen’s statement in paragraph one is accurate, is he claiming that the President, his government and NDC MPs are of unsound mind and therefore not fit to be in these positions under the 1992 Ghanaian Constitution?
I was shocked and disappointed when I read the news item because the man is no mean person. He is a lawyer and former Deputy Interior Minister. A well educated person who is capable of analysing, understanding and knowing the implications of his words. Moreover, as a politician, he should have known that either by ideological reasons, some association or any other reasons, there are voters who opt for the same party or candidate during elections. This happens in every democratic society. For example, here in the UK, there are generations of families who either vote only Labour or Conservative at every election whoever is the party leader or candidate. The same is true in the United States where generations of families vote only Democrat or Republican irrespective of the candidates for either party. For example, even if Obama were the candidate for the Republicans in 2008 and 2012, there would have been some black Democratic voters who would not have voted for Obama because he would have been seen as being with the wrong party. The reverse would be true for John MacCain and Mit Romney.
The above is equally true in Ghana. There are generations of family voters in Ghana who will never vote for NPP or NDC in a general election irrespective of the candidates. Again for various reasons, some voters may decide to vote for the parliamentary candidate of one party and the presidential candidate of another. In fact, the concept of “skirt and blouse” voting during parliamentary and presidential elections is relatively common in Ghana.
It is also common knowledge that the three Northern regions and Volta region vote overwhelmingly for NDC. It would not be illogical to assume that the same could happen in 2016. By his statement, is Obiri Boahen referring to voters in the four regions? Would the voters in these regions regard his statements as insults? This is critical because if NPP is to win in 2016, their presidential candidate must increase his share of votes from those regions. How do such statements and insults encourage voters from these regions to vote for NPP in 2016?
For the above reasons, I found it very sad for Nana Obiri Boahen to make the statements attributed to him. In fact, Nana Obiri Boahen is saying that nearly fifty percent of potential voters in 2016 who may vote for NDC are of unsound mind. These include independent voters, NDC sympathisers and voters from smaller political parties who NPP must persuade to change their minds and vote for NPP in 2016. How on earth does NPP expect these voters to consider changing their vote in 2016 after such insults by a leading member of the party?
Another unfortunate aspect of Obiri Boahen’s statements is the lack of qualification. His statements were premised on the current economic conditions in Ghana. What happens if by the time of the elections in December 2016, the economic conditions in Ghana have improved? Will his blanket statement not be ammunition for NDC by reminding voters that NPP through Obiri Boahen insulted them for voting NDC in 2008 and 2012 so they should not vote for NPP? Why couldn’t Obiri Boahen qualify his statement with, “if by 2016, the economic conditions are the same or worse than now, then ....” Even that is still problematic because it is not advisable for politicians to make sweeping and insulting statements about voters that they will campaign for their votes in future elections.
The second statement that those who voted NDC in 2008 and 2012 made mistakes is equally an insult to the intelligence of voters. NPP members from leading figures to serial callers and writers have been making this claim repeatedly since the 2008 elections. This claim, in fact, exacerbated after the 2012 elections. What NPP and Nana Obiri Boahen are saying is that those voters are directly or indirectly responsible for the poor state of the economy. That is false and no politician should blame some part of electorate for the incompetency of the government. In fact, NPP MPs and not some voters are partly responsible for failing to hold the Executive accountable.
On the contrary, it is the government that has led those who voted for it down. It is a mistake to blame some voters or politically suicidal for politicians to behave as if they know better than the electorate. If that were the case, then why hold elections for politicians to seek the mandate of voters? My advice to NPP is that they should stop accusing or insulting some of the electorate by blaming them for the government’s lapses. It also makes NPP appear all knowing and arrogant. It did not work in 2012 so what makes NPP believe that it will in 2016? If anything, my view is that such reckless accusation or insult had negative effect on NPP’s electoral fortunes.
Another misconception of NPP is that, Ghanaians are waiting for 2016 to vote for them into office. Really? Did we not hear the same prior to December 2012 elections and what happened? Has anybody in NPP cared to find out why Ghanaians did not elect them into office in 2012? Definitely not! Otherwise, the same mistakes would not be repeated daily by the leadership and rank and file of the party. If anyone within NPP sincerely believes this hollow statement then the person is either delusional or lacks the understanding of party politics and democracy.
In politics the electorate do not wait for elections to vote into office the opposition party or vote out the ruling party. Above all, the parties must gain the vote of the electorate by selling their ideas, policies and programmes and persuading the electorate that they not only have better ideas, policies and programmes than their main opponent or the incumbent party but the electorate would be better off if they were given the mandate. In my view that is what NPP might have failed to do or do effectively. Perhaps, they wrongly assume that by saying that Ghanaians are waiting till election years to vote for them, then that will become a reality. If that is case, then NPP politicians are in politics but do not have the appreciation of Political Science, democracy and the dynamics of party politics.
I am sometimes amazed by the utterances of leading politicians in Ghana, especially, from the main opposition party, NPP. Often, they create the impression that they are the only ones endowed with wisdom and knowledge in Ghana. It is also interesting how the leadership and the party as a whole respond to such despicable utterances either through total silence or show of public support instead of public condemnation and disassociation from such individuals and their damaging statements. For example, the NPP National Executives attempted without success to defend the infamous “all die be die” mantra. Some party members printed T shirts with all die be die inscription and claimed it would be a campaign slogan for the 2012 general elections. Again, the party gave a hero’s welcome to Kennedy Agyeapong on his release from detention for inciting ethnic hatred. Whist I accept that it was reasonable for the party to have supported him because his detention and trial were politically motivated and potentially unlawful, the hero’s welcome created the wrong impression that what he said was right and acceptable.
In any civilised society, the party leadership would have called Nana Obiri Boahen to order and asked him to withdraw the insult and apologise. Not in Ghana’s NPP because many, if not all members, hold the same or similar views as Obiri Boahen. A political party that regularly insults and disrespects some or majority of the electorate stands to pay a political price at elections. Such NPP statements turn off moderates, floating and independent voters who may consider voting for the party and unless the party leaders and members critically examine their actions and omissions collectively and severally, considerable percentage of the most influential voters (independent and floating voters) may continue to deny the party their votes, particularly voters who regard such reckless and sweeping statements as insulting and a sign of ignorance and or arrogance.
With such baseless but damaging and irresponsible actions and omissions of the party members, including leading figures, NPP may be its own worst enemy. A critical review of what Obiri Boahen said and taking into consideration his background, my conclusion is that Nana Obiri Boahen is either arrogant, ignorant or simply, a damn fool whose mental faculty may be in urgent need of examination by Psychiatrist and not those who may vote NDC in 2016. It is in the best interest of NPP to call such people to order in the near future.
Kofi Ata, Cambridge, UK
Columnist: Ata, Kofi